5 Stages of CEO Acceptance of Customer Success Image

5 Stages of CEO Acceptance of Customer Success

For software companies (and all companies eventually), Customer Success isn’t an “if,” but rather a “when” and “how.” I’ve been fortunate to witness thousands of companies go through this journey of transformation. During this process, I’ve seen the “movie,” in terms of how most CEOs go through a predictable “maturity curve” as they take Customer Success from a buzzword to the bedrock of your strategy.

While the film may be entertaining at times, there is no reason CEOs can’t “fast forward” to the end. Hence, I wanted to share the stages that I’ve regularly seen CEOs go through, inspired by the famous “Gartner Hype Cycle.

  1. Technology Trigger – “We Should Do This CS Thing!”: In this initial phase, you first hear about Customer Success. For startups, the catalyst could be a Board Member talking about how important it is to valuation growth. For a company transforming, you might hear from a management consulting firm that includes Customer Success as a part of its “playbook” for moving to a SaaS business model. In this stage, you often get educated by reading the Customer Success book, networking with other CEOs on the topic and starting a search for a VP of Customer Success.
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations – “Can You Get Me a CS Person?”: With your shiny, new VP of CS to solve all of your problems, you assign the entire simple tasks of “eliminate churn,” “make customers happy,” and “own Customer Success” to this one person. But, unfortunately, by the time you’ve hired the executive, you’d already assigned most of the budget for the company to Sales, Marketing, and other “more strategic” efforts. So your VP gets a couple of junior hires and is sent off to battle.
  3. Trough of Disillusionment – “We Don’t Need a CS Team”: Surprisingly, the disempowered VP with no resources didn’t fix all of your problems! So you “agree to part ways.” But it’s okay because you’ve realized that having a CS team is overrated. After all, “CS is everyone’s job!” [NOTE that you don’t apply the same approach to Sales…]
  4. Slope of Enlightenment – “How Did We NOT Invest in CS?”: Hopefully, if you’ve made it to this point, you have actually retained your job! Many CEOs get replaced through this process. Whether it’s a PE firm, a new VC, or an activist investor, shareholders expect Net Retention. So maybe you’ve got the religion now, or maybe they hired a new CEO who already “got Customer Success.” Either way, you are likely hiring a CS executive – or even a CCO – and will get it right this time. You are more realistic about what to expect. You resource the team appropriately. You make CS a company priority. Go you!
  5. Plateau of Productivity – “CS Is a Company Priority”: Life is good. Your Net Retention is going up. Your CS team feels like you are truly committed. You realize now that you need your Product and Sales teams 100% lined up with CS around a shared goal of Net Retention because that’s what drives shareholder value.

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